Is anime still an "underground" taste? That's the claim from a Baltimore City Paper article — although funny they should make that claim since Baltimore annually hosts the country's biggest anime convention every year, with an attendance of 35,000 and climbing.
... Ponyo's reception, in Baltimore and nationally, typifies the problems anime has had since it first arrived here in the 1980s. American anime fans are legion, but their enthusiasm for the form has not spread to a broader public, or even to the broader moviegoing public.
This is true, though: the fandom is fierce, but still tends to be insular. There really hasn't been a single, big, breakout / crossover hit. Not even the CGI Astro Boy movie, although that also opened during a year of pretty stiff competition from other genuinely good, creative animated films (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, Coraline).
What there has been, though, is a series of little chiseling-aways at public awareness. No one title, character or author has really made a major impact, but there are minor success stories. Vertical, Inc. brought much Osamu Tezuka's more daring and adult-oriented work into English; VIZ had been doing some of the same with his Astro-Boy manga (and also, it has to be said, his inimitable Phoenix). Here and there, people bump into the broader outlying edges of the whole thing without ever really delving into it. Many fans themselves never find out about such things, but I suspect that's mostly because in any field the only attention paid to things like impact and influence is by people with some interest in the history of the field — a minority. It's not a conscious snub; it's just that they're interested in what's new now.
I am currently working on a longish post about fan-evangelization, about the whole process by which fans communicate their fandom to nonfans (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). There's actually two parts to it — one is a quick-and-dirty guide to anime/manga recommendations, a list of titles to suggest to people based on their existing interests. The other is something I might as well talk about here.
Fans, by and large, make the mistake that other people (the Great Non-Fan Unwashed) are always curious about their fandom. By and large, they aren't. They have their thing(s) and stick to them, and anything outside of that tends to zing right off the walls of their Reality Tunnel like bullets off Superman's gluteus.
We are all like this. Even other fans are like this: viz., the number of Trek / Stargate / Firefly / $FRANCHISE_NAME fans with a studied disinterest in That Other Fandom With The Starships. Or even anime fans themselves.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to reach out. What it does mean is that you need to cultivate some degree of diplomacy about it, and accept failure or indifference as gracefully as you can.
My parents are the furthest thing from fans, but I thought they might be amenable to the odd show that stands out from the pack by dint of being artful and thoughtful (e.g. Mushishi). They watched it, but were only politely interested, and were at least as bewildered as they were curious. (I'm growing certain that some people use a certain degree of self-imposed confusion they don't actually suffer from, as a defense mechanism against things which they feel are simply not worth their time.)
Me, I took it in stride. Anime's a loss? Big deal. We can always talk about Pedro Almodóvar.